In her autobiography Elsa describes many intriguing encontures with other women over the years. In one of the final chapters, entitled "Young Moon in the Old Moon's Arms", Elsa, then in her seventies, poignantly describes her May-December relationship with Gretchen Muller, who was in her twenties. They lived together for about two years. Looking back Elsa states, "Some of my later love poems grew out of this friendship."
In the 1950s, Gidlow helped found Druid Heights, a bohemian community in Marin County, California. She was the author of thirteen books and appeared as herself in the documentary film, Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977). Completed just before her death, her book Elsa, I Come With My Songs (1986), became the first published lesbian autobiography.
Elsa Gidlow was born Elfie Gidlow on 29 December 1898 in Hull, Yorkshire, England. Sometime around 1904, the Gidlow family emigrated to Tétreaultville, Quebec, Canada. At the age of fifteen, Elsa and her family moved to Montreal. She was first employed by a contact of her father's in Montreal, a factory doctor, as assistant editor to Factory Facts, an in-house magazine. In 1917, she began seeking out fellow writers and meeting with them, particularly in the field of amateur journalism, which was popular at the time. With collaborator Roswell George Mills, Gidlow published Les Mouches Fantastiques, one of the first gay magazines in Canada. H. P. Lovecraft, a fellow amateur journalist, attacked their work, leading Gidlow to defend it and attack back in return; the dispute created a minor controversy but brought Gidlow and Mills public, albeit negative attention.
She moved to New York in 1920 at the age of 21. There she was employed by Frank Harris of Pearson's, a magazine supportive of poets and unsympathetic to the war and England. Later, in 1926, she moved to San Francisco, and continued to live, write and love in the San Francisco Bay Area for the rest of her life. In the 1940s, she lived in Fairfax, California, where she became active in local politics. Due to her membership in political and writers' groups allegedly affiliated with communists, she was suspected of being "Un-American" and was subsequently investigated, subpoenaed and forced to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947. HUAC's final report accused her of being affiliated with communist front organizations. However, as a philosophical anarchist Gidlow was ideologically opposed to communism, and she denied the accusation. Patricia Holt of the San Francisco Chronicle writes:
It amused Gidlow that such "radical" ideas set her up for a witch hunt in Fairfax, where she had moved in her 40s. [Their] charges that Gidlow was a "red," as Stanton Delaplane reported in The Chronicle, were "Washed Pink at Fairfax Hearings." But Gidlow, who lived with a woman of African descent and often made dinner for the Chans from San Francisco, was later accused of "living with a colored woman and frequently entertaining Chinese people . . . This was damning evidence that I could not be a loyal American."In 1954, she purchased a ranch with Roger Somers and his family above Muir Woods on the southwest flank of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, California. Gidlow named the mountain ranch "Druid Heights", a nod to her friend, Irish poet Ella Young. Gidlow and her partner Isabel Grenfell Quallo lived together for a decade at Druid Heights, along with notable residents, including her close friend Alan Watts and feminist theorist Catharine MacKinnon. Along with Watts, she co-founded the Society for Comparative Philosophy. Gidlow socialized with many famous artists, radical thinkers, mystics, and political activists at Druid Heights, including Ansel Adams, Gary Snyder, Dizzy Gillespie, Neil Young, Tom Robbins, and Margo St. James.
Her autobiography, Elsa, I Come With My Songs: The Autobiography of Elsa Gidlow gives a personal and detailed account of her life seeking, finding and creating a life with other lesbians at a time when little was recorded on the topic.
Towards the last years of her life, Gidlow experienced several strokes. She chose not to seek medical care in a hospital and died at home in Druid Heights at the age of 87. Gidlow was cremated and her ashes were mixed with rice and buried beneath an apple tree in Druid Heights.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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